My E-mail Experiment: An Update

Two weeks ago, I began my recovery from e-mail addiction. Based on Tim Ferriss’s advice, I decided that I would set my e-mail program to work in offline mode. I purposed to check e-mail only twice a day—once in the middle of the workday and once at the end.

Lab Experiment

Since then, several people have written to ask how my little experiment is going. Several have also joined me in this adventure.

Let me begin by saying that this has been more difficult than I anticipated. Way more. The only thing I can compare it to is fasting. You don’t think about food much until you decide to go on a fast. Suddenly, all you can think about is food!

Going cold turkey on e-mail has been similar. I never realized how addicted I really was until I decided to change my routine. Unconsciously, I find myself reaching for my Blackberry. At my desk, just when I really begin thinking, I suddenly have the urge to check my e-mail. It has taken all the will-power I can muster to resist these temptations.

And—I have to be honest—I have fallen down several times. But, by the grace of God, I keep getting up. So far, I am staying with the plan.

The good news is that I have been unbelievably productive. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have the constant distraction of pinging e-mail. I have left the office almost every day with an empty inbox. And, I have made major progress on several projects that had languished on my to-do list. I have also found myself thinking more clearly than ever.

I have also discovered that I am much more efficient in processing e-mail. When that is all I am doing, I can work really, really fast. I am still observing David Allen’s “two-minute rule” from Getting Things Done. (This rule basically says that you immediately act on anything in your inbox that can be done in two minutes or less. If a task is going to take longer than two minutes, you put it on the appropriate to-do list.) But, all in all, I have found that I can blow through 40-50 messages in 30 minutes. By doing this twice a day, I am spending no more than an hour a day on e-mail. This is a major improvement from life-before-recovery.

I am the most tempted to regress to my old habits early in the morning. That’s when I feel the tractor-pull of my inbox the most. But, when I resist, I find that I can complete a couple of my major priorities for the day—before I ever get to the office. This is a great feeling. Hopefully, as I keep resisting the temptation, the temptation will wear off. That will be sweet indeed.

So, that’s my progress report. I am pleased with how I am doing so far. If you are also trying this experiment, please share your comments below. Maybe I’ll start a 12-step support group!

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  • http://daveanthold.typepad.com/elevate Dave Anthold

    I have enjoyed reading your email experiment and as a result you have peaked my interest in the book, so I downloaded it from audible and it will hit my listening device soon after I finish "Make it Stick". Keep up the good work. Breaking the email addiction is tough and I haven't come to that point yet, but you are pushing me towards that end.

  • http://daveanthold.typepad.com/elevate Dave Anthold

    I have enjoyed reading your email experiment and as a result you have peaked my interest in the book, so I downloaded it from audible and it will hit my listening device soon after I finish “Make it Stick”. Keep up the good work. Breaking the email addiction is tough and I haven’t come to that point yet, but you are pushing me towards that end.

  • Elizabeth P. Quinlan

    I have to admit that I have not yet taken on the discpline of checking only twice a day, but you did inspire me to take the audio alert off so that I don't have a Pavlovian response every time the computer pings. That alone has significantly increased my productivity. I also now use looking at the e-mail as a reward for getting a project done.

    One thing I have found when I look at a batch of e-mails is that I am much less likely to take the time to read e-mails for listservs I am on and have even taken myself off of quite a few lists.

    All to the good!

  • Elizabeth P. Quinlan

    I have to admit that I have not yet taken on the discpline of checking only twice a day, but you did inspire me to take the audio alert off so that I don’t have a Pavlovian response every time the computer pings. That alone has significantly increased my productivity. I also now use looking at the e-mail as a reward for getting a project done.

    One thing I have found when I look at a batch of e-mails is that I am much less likely to take the time to read e-mails for listservs I am on and have even taken myself off of quite a few lists.

    All to the good!

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/blog Lawrence

    It's interesting that you use the language of revival ("by God's grace, I keep getting up") and recovery ("I didn't realize how addicted I was") … and I don't think you're being totally facetious.

    I tried this for one day and also realized "how addicted I was." What's weird is the low-level anxiety you get from not being able to check e-mail when you want to.

    Now, like all addicts, I have a choice to make.

    "Ding."

    Well … gotta run.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/blog Lawrence

    It’s interesting that you use the language of revival (“by God’s grace, I keep getting up”) and recovery (“I didn’t realize how addicted I was”) … and I don’t think you’re being totally facetious.

    I tried this for one day and also realized “how addicted I was.” What’s weird is the low-level anxiety you get from not being able to check e-mail when you want to.

    Now, like all addicts, I have a choice to make.

    “Ding.”

    Well … gotta run.

  • http://www.jenniferrothschild.com/ Philip Rothschild

    Just here to cheer you on Mike. I admire you for trying. I'm not there yet, but your writing about it has caused me to think about my productivity level. Blessings. Phil

  • http://www.jenniferrothschild.com Philip Rothschild

    Just here to cheer you on Mike. I admire you for trying. I’m not there yet, but your writing about it has caused me to think about my productivity level. Blessings. Phil

  • http://portraitofawriter.ginaconroy.com/ Gina Conroy

    Glad to see it's working! I'm going to have to try the two minute rule.

  • http://portraitofawriter.ginaconroy.com Gina Conroy

    Glad to see it’s working! I’m going to have to try the two minute rule.

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com/ Rachel Hauck

    You wrote: At my desk, just when I really begin thinking, I suddenly have the urge to check my e-mail.

    Rachel: Yes! This is exactly what happens to me. I thought I was going nuts. I found working away from a place where I can't get on the internet (and I think I'll cross Blackberry off my Christmas list) I get so much more done! And, the temptation is gone because I know I can't check anything.

    E-mail, even in the business world, is like social time. We get input, feedback, a touch from someone else instead of having to plow through our own weaknesses, dig in and work. :)

    Happy 4th.

    Rachel

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    You wrote: At my desk, just when I really begin thinking, I suddenly have the urge to check my e-mail.

    Rachel: Yes! This is exactly what happens to me. I thought I was going nuts. I found working away from a place where I can’t get on the internet (and I think I’ll cross Blackberry off my Christmas list) I get so much more done! And, the temptation is gone because I know I can’t check anything.

    E-mail, even in the business world, is like social time. We get input, feedback, a touch from someone else instead of having to plow through our own weaknesses, dig in and work. :)

    Happy 4th.

    Rachel

  • John

    Congratulations and God Bless Michael! Too many people fall into the trap of answering email all day long and later wonder where the day went. Don't confuse email with instant messaging. I carried a Blackberry back when hey first came out and would never carry one again (this includes smart phones).

  • John

    Congratulations and God Bless Michael! Too many people fall into the trap of answering email all day long and later wonder where the day went. Don’t confuse email with instant messaging. I carried a Blackberry back when hey first came out and would never carry one again (this includes smart phones).

  • Doug Smith

    Okay, I have to try this!

    But is there anything else from the Ferriss book that you find useful? Do you recommend the book?

  • Doug Smith

    Okay, I have to try this!

    But is there anything else from the Ferriss book that you find useful? Do you recommend the book?

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Doug,

    I definitely recommend the book. I don't agree with everything, but it is very challenging!

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Doug,

    I definitely recommend the book. I don’t agree with everything, but it is very challenging!

    Mike

  • Becca

    Mike, I admire your discipline, and I'm sure if I could be more disciplined in managing my work time I would be more productive. But just the other day my boss came into my office asking for my response on an email that I hadn't even gotten a chance to read. I know it wasn't in my in-box more than 15 minutes. So how do I retrain his expectations?

  • Becca

    Mike, I admire your discipline, and I’m sure if I could be more disciplined in managing my work time I would be more productive. But just the other day my boss came into my office asking for my response on an email that I hadn’t even gotten a chance to read. I know it wasn’t in my in-box more than 15 minutes. So how do I retrain his expectations?

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Becca,

    You have to remember what your boss wants: you to be as productive as possible. Therefore, you have to explain how responding twice a day will enable you to be more productive. I would also download this report:
    http://www.changethis.com/34.04.LowInfo

    I would suggest you share it with your boss. It distills the best parts of the 4-Hour Work Week.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Becca,

    You have to remember what your boss wants: you to be as productive as possible. Therefore, you have to explain how responding twice a day will enable you to be more productive. I would also download this report:

    http://www.changethis.com/34.04.LowInfo

    I would suggest you share it with your boss. It distills the best parts of the 4-Hour Work Week.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • Regular Visitor

    Just finished reading "4 Hour Workweek" at suggestion of this blog.

    Fun book – you have to take what you can from it, it's not like GTD where you can apply literally everything from it…but Ferris's book is worth the read. Definitely a "new economy" kind of book – but I think there's some valuable information in it.

    Just my $.02 –

  • Regular Visitor

    Just finished reading “4 Hour Workweek” at suggestion of this blog.

    Fun book – you have to take what you can from it, it’s not like GTD where you can apply literally everything from it…but Ferris’s book is worth the read. Definitely a “new economy” kind of book – but I think there’s some valuable information in it.

    Just my $.02 -

  • Kiran

    Michael –

    Your blog influences me greatly and i wanted to make a quick point on your email experiment.

    I have for the past 6 months configured Outlook to a send and receive every 1 hour

    The problem is the expectations of your colleagues – for better or worse email has created a culture of "I want your response now" – sadly people think if you are on email you are working (and not when – you are reading!)

  • Kiran

    Michael -

    Your blog influences me greatly and i wanted to make a quick point on your email experiment.

    I have for the past 6 months configured Outlook to a send and receive every 1 hour

    The problem is the expectations of your colleagues – for better or worse email has created a culture of “I want your response now” – sadly people think if you are on email you are working (and not when – you are reading!)

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Kiran,

    This is why you have to educate your colleagues and STOP the madness. See my e-mail auto-reply here. I hope this helps.

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Kiran,

    This is why you have to educate your colleagues and STOP the madness. See my e-mail auto-reply here. I hope this helps.

    Mike

  • Perry

    Mike,

    Thanks for giving us all hope. Any advice for those of us who travel 3 or 4 days a week and have difficulty establishing a daily pattern?

    Thanks,
    Perry

  • Perry

    Mike,

    Thanks for giving us all hope. Any advice for those of us who travel 3 or 4 days a week and have difficulty establishing a daily pattern?

    Thanks,
    Perry

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Perry,

    I think you can still establish a daily pattern, you just can't be as consistent with the time. Perhaps checking it first thing in the morning and last thing at night would work.

    Mike

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Perry,

    I think you can still establish a daily pattern, you just can’t be as consistent with the time. Perhaps checking it first thing in the morning and last thing at night would work.

    Mike

  • Kiran

    Michael –

    Thanks for your reply (which incidentally i have as my signature and not auto responder)
    While i agree with you, being a CEO has it's advantages i guess

    But good luck to you on your endeavor. Hope it catches on

  • Kiran

    Michael -

    Thanks for your reply (which incidentally i have as my signature and not auto responder)
    While i agree with you, being a CEO has it’s advantages i guess

    But good luck to you on your endeavor. Hope it catches on

  • http://christianfictionblogalliance.blogspot.com/ Bonnie Calhoun

    God bless your effort, but it would push me over the edge if I could only look at my email twice a day!

    At the Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance with 150+ members, and publicists, and publishers emailing me on a daily basis, I'm lucky if I get away with anything under 200 emails a day!

  • http://christianfictionblogalliance.blogspot.com Bonnie Calhoun

    God bless your effort, but it would push me over the edge if I could only look at my email twice a day!

    At the Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance with 150+ members, and publicists, and publishers emailing me on a daily basis, I’m lucky if I get away with anything under 200 emails a day!

  • http://www.adamkhan.net/ Adam Khan

    I feel so pleased with myself when I obey my own goal and begin my day at my desk by reviewing my physical tickler file, saying something aloud about each item in my physical inbox, and only then, after getting my own self-generated input, complete the input by getting input from others, ie, checking my email.

    It's helpful to see others with the same issues.

  • http://www.adamkhan.net Adam Khan

    I feel so pleased with myself when I obey my own goal and begin my day at my desk by reviewing my physical tickler file, saying something aloud about each item in my physical inbox, and only then, after getting my own self-generated input, complete the input by getting input from others, ie, checking my email.

    It’s helpful to see others with the same issues.

  • http://www.cjdarlington.com/ C.J. Darlington

    Thank you for this post, Michael. I really need to do something to cure my "habit" too, and this seems like just the thing. I might let myself check three times a day though. :)

  • http://www.cjdarlington.com C.J. Darlington

    Thank you for this post, Michael. I really need to do something to cure my “habit” too, and this seems like just the thing. I might let myself check three times a day though. :)

  • http://worksmarter.splinder.com/post/12974119 Work smarter not har

    Uso temperato delle mail

    Come tutti sperimentiamo ogni giorno, una delle principali distrazioni che ci piombano addosso durante la nostra giornata lavorativa lincessante (spesso) bombardamento che riceviamo dallesterno fatto dalle e-mail ch

  • http://worksmarter.splinder.com/post/12974119 Work smarter not harder

    Uso temperato delle mail

    Come tutti sperimentiamo ogni giorno, una delle principali distrazioni che ci piombano addosso durante la nostra giornata lavorativa lincessante (spesso) bombardamento che riceviamo dallesterno fatto dalle e-mail ch

  • http://wwwjohnmichaeldemarco.blogspot.com/ John Michael De Marc

    Mike, I was on vacation last week on the Gulf Coast of Florida and stayed at a resort promising WiFi Internet access. The connection was so slow that I never could download my 50-some-odd emails. At first this was frustrating, and then I realized it was a gift. The gift of disconnecting for a week! – John

  • http://wwwjohnmichaeldemarco.blogspot.com/ John Michael De Marco

    Mike, I was on vacation last week on the Gulf Coast of Florida and stayed at a resort promising WiFi Internet access. The connection was so slow that I never could download my 50-some-odd emails. At first this was frustrating, and then I realized it was a gift. The gift of disconnecting for a week! – John

  • Dean Fuhrman

    Mike – After almost 3 months give or take, how has the experiment worked on your e-mail plan?

  • Dean Fuhrman

    Mike – After almost 3 months give or take, how has the experiment worked on your e-mail plan?

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